F1 now makes 3 stops a season in the United States. Could Miami become a victim of oversaturation?

Formula 1 is back in the United States for the first time since its sparkling Las Vegas debut six months ago
Fans watch from a grandstand as Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico, center, and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drive past during the practice session for the Formula One Miami Grand Prix auto race, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

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Fans watch from a grandstand as Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico, center, and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drive past during the practice session for the Formula One Miami Grand Prix auto race, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Formula 1 is back in the United States for the first time in six months and the first stop is the Miami Grand Prix, the race that was supposed to be the American showpiece.

But the sparkling debut of Las Vegas last November was rated as one of the best races of the 2023 season, and Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, is a stalwart event that caters to passionate F1 fans.

Miami was the big party when it debuted in 2022 but the question is: Has its status fallen enough that Sunday's race is simply just the first of three events in what has traditionally been NASCAR country?

Tyler Epp, president of the Miami Grand Prix, acknowledged ticket sales for the third running of the event have been “soft” but felt there would be an uptick ahead of Sunday's race. Epp believes the U.S. can handle three events because they are so different.

“It feels like the decision to make this race about Miami and everything that Miami has to offer was the right decision because it does separate us from Las Vegas and Austin, and frankly Montreal and Mexico and all of North America,” Epp said. "I still think we are a unique property. We're the first of the three, and we like our position there.

“The communication between the three races in the States is good," he added. "We haven't seen the market softened directly because of Vegas, at least we don't think so, and we root for the other races in this country to make sure the power of F1 continues to drive for the fanbase.”

Teams have praised the improvements Miami has made since it debuted the 19-turn, 3.361-mile course in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL's Dolphins. Team hospitality was moved onto the field last year after the stadium went unused in 2022, and the entire track was resurfaced ahead of the 2023 race.

The circuit has 11 pedestrian bridges, more than any other on the F1 schedule, and the width of several bridges has been doubled to improve foot traffic across the sprawling campus that is hosting concerts and parties at the same time cars turn laps.

“If you compare where we are today, three years in from we were at the beginning, it is an enormous change,” said Williams team principal James Vowles. “This was a carpark, fundamentally, that they converted into a top-tier Formula 1 track.”

Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton bristled when asked if the addition of Las Vegas to F1's calendar had “diminished" Miami's status as a see-and-be-seen event.

“Diminished? No, I think the sport’s got bigger here. It’s got a lot more awareness,” Hamilton said. “Every city that I go to, people are excited. It’s now a sport here in the States. Before, it was just an event that arrived once a year. Now, we’re kind of a part of the culture here, which is really, really cool.”

Max Verstappen won the first two races at Miami and, after opening this season with wins in four of the first five races, is expected to win again Sunday. His dominance has led to complaints about the competitiveness of the racing, particularly at Miami.

Race organizers in March announced former Haas team principal Guenther Steiner as a race ambassador. The popular Steiner from F1's docuseries on Netflix has enjoyed promoting the event. He doesn't think the circuit is a problem.

“The race track is a very good race track, it's just that sometimes some races are more interesting than other ones,” Steiner said. “If you've got Max dominating the way he was the first two races, whatever I say to (organizers), they cannot do anything about that.”

Red Bull departures?

McLaren boss Zak Brown said he expects more Red Bull employees to leave the organization in the fallout from allegations of inappropriate conduct toward an employee by team principal Christian Horner.

Brown's assessment Friday followed news this week that Adrian Newey, the chief technical officer and architect of Red Bull's championship-winning cars, will leave the organization in early 2025. Brown said six months ago, he'd have been shocked to learn Newey would leave Red Bull, but the Horner situation has led to an uptick in job applications floating across the paddock.

“Given everything that’s gone on since the start of the year and knowing Adrian pretty well, and he’s a very high-integrity individual, I’m not surprised he’s moving on," Brown said. “I think the stuff that’s going on there is a bit destabilizing. He’s probably the first domino to fall, my guess is not the last based on the resumés that are flying around.”

Horner was cleared of any misconduct by Red Bull's parent company and his accuser has been suspended. The employee has appealed Red Bull's decision and representatives have filed a complaint to F1's governing body on behalf of the employee.

Sainz future

Carlos Sainz Jr. is taking his time to find a seat for 2025 and denied reports he turned down an offer from Audi.

“That’s not correct,” Sainz said. “There are certain things that don’t depend fully on myself and there will be some waiting to done. It’s not like we are completely stopped and we are still in conversations with people and advancing what we can advance.”

Audi is taking over the Sauber team, and current drivers Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu are in contract seasons. Audi has already signed Nico Hulkenberg of Haas as its first driver, which means only one seat is still open.

Bottas was admittedly surprised by last month’s signed of Hulkenberg after just the fifth race of the season.

“The timing is quite early and a little bit surprising, but the driver market is starting to move, obviously, and it also kind of makes sense. He’s German, and Audi has made it pretty clear that they want a German driver, so it’s all good. Let’s see what happens next,” Bottas said.

Sainz is being replaced at Ferrari next year by Lewis Hamilton. Sainz and Hulkenberg were teammates at Renault at the end of the 2017 season and in 2018, but Sainz has not wavered in that he won’t rush a 2025 decision.

Mercedes must replace Hamilton and there’s uncertainty surrounding Verstappen’s claims that he is content at Red Bull. Verstappen’s contract with Red Bull runs through 2028 but a fracture between Horner and Verstappen’s father has given the perception that Jos Verstappen is trying to negotiate an exit out of Red Bull for his son.

“The only assurance I have is that I want to take the right decision. That’s why it’s taking a bit longer and I want to see all of the options available before taking any decision,” Sainz said.

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the practice session for the Formula One Miami Grand Prix auto race, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

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Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico steers his car in front of Mercedes driver George Russell of Britain during the practice session for the Formula One Miami Grand Prix auto race, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

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Former football player Tom Brady, left, tours the Williams Racing garage after a practice session ahead of the Formula One Miami Grand Prix auto race at the Miami International Autodrome, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico steers his car during the practice session for the Formula One Miami Grand Prix auto race, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

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Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll of Canada pits during practice ahead of the Formula One Miami Grand Prix auto race at the Miami International Autodrome, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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